Ill-treatment conducted by Serbian police

In the case of Zličić v. Serbia (applications nos. 73313/17 and 20143/19, 26.01.2020) the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been a violations of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case concerned the applicant’s alleged ill-treatment by the police, the investigation into his allegations, and the proceedings that followed. On 10 January 2014 the applicant and his friend were approached by police while sitting outside on a bench. A police officer asked them if they owned a   small plastic bag (the Government stated that it had contained cannabis). The applicant was arrested and he asserted that at the police station he had been beaten and stripped, and threats had been issued in respect of his family and girlfriend. Fearing abuse, he had signed a seizure certificate. The Government asserted that the applicant had been questioned in accordance with the law and he had not objected to the officers’ conduct.

On 22 September 2019 the applicant initiated civil proceedings in connection with the alleged police abuse. The Novi Sad Court of First Instance accepted his main arguments and awarded him the equivalent of 670 euros (EUR) in respect of pain and suffering, EUR 835 for the fear endured, and EUR 605 in costs. Those awards were later reduced on appeal, but the judgment was upheld.

The Court found that the domestic civil courts acceptance of the applicant’s version of events was sufficient for it to find that he had suffered ill-treatment. It also highlighted the medical evidence, and his friend’s assertion that the applicant had suffered abuse. The Court furthermore accepted that coercion had been a factor in the applicant’s signature of the seizure certificate. 

Lastly, the Court noted the lack of an alternative explanation from the Government as to how the applicant had been injured. The applicant had thus suffered inhuman and degrading treatment. The Court also found a violation of Article 3 given the lack of an adequate investigation into the allegations raised by the applicant. The Court noted that the Serbian civil courts had established a link between the suffering experienced by the applicant and his ill-treatment by the police, finding the State responsible. However, the award had been inadequate and no adequate police investigation into the ill-treatment had been carried out. There had thus been a substantive violation of Article 3 and a procedural violation in how the authorities reacted to the allegations.

Reference from the official website of the European Court of Human Rights